As The Spin rolled onto the green hills of the Junebug Boogie Ranch just north of Cookeville, Tenn., on the second day of the Muddy Roots Music Festival, we wondered what the day would bring. A mostly clear sky meant little chance for rain, but the blistering heat meant it would be an endurance test for the hundreds of music fans already on the scene.
We were immediately welcomed by the familiar tune “Polk Salad Annie” echoing off the hills behind us. The Florida swamp-rock trio The Gladezmen kicked off Saturday’s program on the main stage with a set of down-home blues and rock ’n’ roll that got the shade-seeking audience whooping with the best of them. But that wasn’t the only show.
Dashing down the Muddy Roots midway, ducking in and out of tents for the occasional patch of shade, we soon discovered the Middle Tennessee quartet The Glade City Rounders laying down old-timey string-band music to a smaller but just as appreciative crowd.
The contrast between the heavy electric crunch of one band and the good-time acoustic sound of the other was a perfect way to begin the Muddy Roots experience. The apparent stylistic dissonances continued to unfurl throughout the day on three different stages. Traveling the circuit, we moved from the crankin’ hick metal of Left Lane Cruiser to the astounding folk-blues one-man band Hangdog Hearts, and on to the raunchy psychobilly of Hellfire Revival.
It was that mix of country and punk and “everything in between” that comprised the colorful spectrum of Muddy Roots. The stylistic hues changed, but the intensity of the performances remained consistent — from the simmering infrared of front-porch bluesman L.C. Ulmer to the crackling ultraviolet of Swiss garage punks, The Monsters.
The music glistened no matter the style, but the greatest charm of the day was the feeling of community evident everywhere. There were no backstage passes — no separation of fans and rock stars. The musician we saw onstage in the morning ended up standing next to us for another band’s set in the afternoon. People seemed happy to share the shade or a jar of moonshine. Whether talking to musicians, vendors or attendees, the term most frequently mentioned was “family.” Sure, there was the occasional drunk “uncle” making an ass of himself, but hey, he’s family too.
But of course the question most people will ask about Muddy Roots 2013 is, “How was Black Flag?” For those not up on current punk culture kerfuffles, the seminal hardcore punk band Black Flag recently reconstituted with Muddy Roots as the first stop on their U.S. tour. The current lineup includes original guitarist and core member Greg Ginn, plus Ron Reyes (the second vocalist to front the band in its early years) and two younger recruits, Gregory Moore on drums and Dave Klein on bass.
Leaving the question, “Are reunion tours truly ‘punk'?” aside, the “registered trademark” version of Black Flag delivered a great set of the band’s best known songs. Ginn remains an amazing guitarist and Reyes still delivers a heaping serving of punk fury. In fact, if The Spin had plunked down cash solely to see this act, we would have left satisfied. But taken in the context of the day, there seemed to be something missing. Of all the bands we saw at Muddy Roots, Black Flag’s performance was the only one that seemed like a proper concert.
We couldn’t help contrasting Black Flag's set to that of duo Sean and Zander, which we saw earlier in the day. Both veterans of the same L.A. punk scene that spawned Black Flag, Sean Wheeler (Throw Rag) and Zander Schloss (The Weirdos, Circle Jerks) now play acoustic folk music that demonstrates no punk pedigree in form, but heaps of hardcore spirit and indie attitude in function. Their performance demonstrated the Muddy Roots aesthetic in full flower. In reality we were spectators, but we felt we were just as much a part of the “event” as the musicians onstage.
That sense of inclusiveness made Muddy Roots a special experience. We saw fantastic bands, we felt like our flesh was melting from the heat, we found new friends, the occasional bug flew in our mouth. But throughout it all, we discovered a home in a place we’d never been before, and one that we want to visit again.